SeaWorld Attempts to Repair Image with PR and Smear campaigns
No stranger to controversy, Seaworld has had its share of negative press, including a 2013 documentary still fresh in the public’s mind. “Blackfish” tells the story of Tilikum, a killer whale being held captive at SeaWorld Orlando and responsible for the deaths of three people, including SeaWorld Dawn Brancheau. Despite boycotts, protests, and widespread backlash on social media and from animal activist groups, SeaWorld has managed to keep its doors open.
As part of its efforts to revive its ailing brand image, SeaWorld has launched the SeaWorld Cares campaign, including a website highlighting the positive impact SeaWorld has on aquatic animals. The site also features the You Ask, We Answer Q & A portal, where users are encouraged to ask SeaWorld all the tough questions about its treatment toward animals in its theme parks.
The campaign is a positive step in the right direction, but it took a dark turn this week when SeaWorld attempted to discredit former employee John Hargrove, also featured in “Blackfish.” In his book “Beneath the Surface,” Hargrove criticizes SeaWorld’s practices and chronicles the challenges facing Orca trainers. This week, SeaWorld released a five-year old video showing a drunken Hargrove using racial slurs during a phone conversation with a friend.
Why are most of SeaWorld’s public relations efforts focused on blaming a former employee and defending what a majority of people consider to be significant errors, rather than on admitting its missteps and making the much needed changes? The campaigns are SeaWorld’s band-aid solution to a deep-rooted problem.
Public relations is the business of building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships between a company and its publics. We can all talk a big game, but in order to get the endorsement and goodwill of our publics, companies must prove they deserve it. It’s time for SeaWorld to rip off the band-aid, tend to its wounds, and prove that it cares about wildlife and about those who patronize the theme park. A sincere apology and assurance that Tilikum and his offspring are released from the parks is a good place to start.
What do you think of SeaWorld releasing the John Hargrove video? Does it make matters worse, or will it discredit the author? Leave your thoughts in the comments section, or tweet me @mo_yeen.